I frequently get questions on what the so called "MVAK approach" is all about. A recent semi-private conversation bought this to forefront, and I wanted to make this available to a wider audience of students and friends for thoughts.
A few senior students and I were having an in depth conversation on all things: Martial Arts, Life, Philosophy, and Individual Expression. One students spoke to me privately and said, “Sensei, the way you approach things has changed. I see the same things and yet... they are very different. What is the right way?”
I answered, matter of fact, “Well, which one works?” He looked confused for a second then said, “Both work Sensei." I responded, “Then they are both right are they not? Focus on what makes them both work, not the mere sight of them.” This student is particularly cerebral and thinks deeply about things. After a few minutes he nodded and said he wanted to learn the two "ways". As I demonstrated the the two "ways", I also brought in a 3rd and 4th "way" to do the exact same technique – the first variation of Irimi Nage/Entering Throw (the first throw one learns within the first month of training).
I could see the sparks fly and confusion begin to set in…and of course this is the perfect ground for allowing true expression to emerge and an understanding of new principals. I saw the look in the student’s eye and I knew exactly what that meant. I have experienced the same bewilderment and magic with my own true teachers. For this is where true learning begins- I tread this ground very carefully and deliberately. ( I have learned from many teachers, but I only consider four of them as my true teachers- among them Sastri Sensei, my root/core/principal teacher)
“There is no 'one way' to do things, and extending that line, there is no one system or style with all the right answers...what remains constant through the whole process is YOU! Doesn't it make sense to learn how to access that YOU and its interaction with all pressures (combat or life) put on it. The systems you study give you tools to deal with life, however the system won’t solve the problem – YOU have to! Hence the focus is to expose you to Natural Principals. Those principals give rise to Natural Techniques that emerge from them, and those belong to YOU and only YOU.”
I saw some heads shaking, and one student even looked puzzled. I turned to him and said, “No one will come fight your battles, YOU have to. These are a set of tools, but ultimately they have to be YOUR tools. If you align yourself with those natural principals, you don’t have to remember techniques, you will want the Right Response To Emerge. That is the game we are after. It just so happens we are using a system which is VERY good at dealing with many combat situations, however it (the system) won’t fight your fight, YOU have got to do it, YOU have to have the heart to jump in. I don’t care if you know 10,000 techniques and every variation to them... if you lack heart to apply them, to try them out in real life, then as far as I am concerned the techniques and time spent learning them are useless.”
I sensed a little frustration in another particular student- he likes things laid out in black and white, as a model that he can digest and “vomit back.” Nothing is wrong with that approach, but if you are learning with me from that approach, get familiar with frustration. As anticipated he asked, “Sensei – so what are we really doing here at MVAK ? Is this not KAR which has been handed down for generations?”
We had to come to this point, it’s a good, a valid question.“Yes what we do is KAR, and KAR is a particular approach to combat. I teach it almost exclusively BUT I also bring my own understandings from other fields of study, martial and otherwise- for if you follow natural principals, they will always be complementary to one another, not opposed. (Both of my KAR teachers talked about learning natural principals and applying that to what we do in the dojo, and in life.) Align with them, and do not fight against them. THAT's what we do to the extreme level. For the only thing constant in nature is change. The only thing that was constant, that IS constant in my training is change. I don’t know how many variations & techniques I have forgotten because every time I hit the mat with HRV or SS Sensei there was something new. And if you had studied for any length of time with both of them you would know exactly what I mean.”
“Therefore, techniques by themselves are not the endgame. What we have to focus on are the principals and process of learning. So you ask me what are we doing here at MVAK, let me be very succinct and clear about this," (I paused to get complete attention), “MVAK is not a static thing, it is a process, always growing towards mastery, striving and yet never arriving. We have learned the only thing constant in nature is CHANGE, so we aim to harness that and to be at home with that one constant. In other words I am interested in a Game called YOU and how YOU deal with what shows up. Techniques are just a starting point – the process of learning and unfolding is where the magic is and THAT is what MVAK is about. KAR provides me with the tools to do just that. Understand?”
They nodded and I concluded, “Where systems and well carved paths end, you begin to emerge! That’s the game I am after, and MVAK is the process of doing it, while we use the fantastic combat skills of KAR as tools on this journey.” With that we ended class.
Deep down, I know this, my approach, is NOT for everyone. Especially in this day and age where sound bites, 7 pre-defined steps to mastery, and quick fixes sell. What I offer is for those few who choose to become real Apprentices to power: Apprentices to a natural order, Apprentices to the process of unfolding, unlearning and, when required, unleashing the power of combat. THAT is what we are about. The Game is You, the rules are natural processes and the system(s) we study are the tools.
What the tools are for? If your answer is just combat (or, even worse, you say, well that is what was done 1000 years ago by some holy monk on the mountain) then it’s a very small game you are playing.
My dojo is NOT the place for that small game.
I am interested in the Big Game, and, paradoxically, becoming ever smaller in it. If you understand, if this calls you, we should talk. I'd rather take 10 students a 1000 miles into themselves than taking 1,000 students one mile down the road.